Pollution from Domestic Cleaning Agents : The Big Picture

What are Domestic Cleaning Agents?

Domestic cleaning agents are effective at getting rid of the dirt at home, germs and other microscopic, harmful organisms. However, some of these domestic cleaning agents that are used to sanitize, whiten and wash clothing, surfaces, dishes and bedding are also harming our water and air, causing massive Environmental Pollution, especially indoor pollution, especially in our homes where we spend arguably our most time in.

The chemicals in many cleaners are common pollutants that contribute to smog, reduce the quality of drinking water and are toxic to animals.

Who are these ‘Chemical Culprits’?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, phosphorus, nitrogen, ammonia and chemicals grouped under the term “Volatile Organic Compounds” or VOCs as the worst environmental hazards in domestic cleaning agents (US EPA, 2018).

According to the Canadian Labour Environmental Alliance Society, dishwasher detergents are approximately 30 to 40 per cent phosphorus. Moreover, ammonia is a multipurpose household cleaner that is found in many cleaning products that do everything from sanitizing and removing allergens. VOCs are found in a wide range of cleaning products. They whiten your clothes, remove oil from dishes and disinfect as bathroom cleaners, amongst other uses. Nitrogen is found in glass and surface cleaning products and even in floor cleaners as well (US EPA, 2019).

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Phosphorous – P
Ammonia – NH3
Nitrogen – N

Common domestic cleaning agent supplies containing VOCs and other toxic substances can include, but are not limited to (American Lung Association, 2020):

  • Aerosol spray products, including health, beauty and cleaning products;
  • Air fresheners;
  • Chlorine bleach;
  • Detergent and dishwashing liquid;
  • Dry cleaning chemicals;
  • Rug and upholstery cleaners;
  • Furniture and floor polish; and
  • Oven cleaners

Household cleaners, paints and perfumes have also become substantial sources of urban air pollution as strict controls on vehicles have reduced road traffic emissions, some scientists say.

Researchers in the US looked at levels of synthetic VOCs in roadside air in Los Angeles and found that as much came from industrial and household products refined from petroleum as from vehicle exhaust pipes.

The compounds are an important contributor to air pollution because when they waft into the atmosphere, they react with other chemicals to produce harmful ozone or fine particulate matter known as PM2.5. Ground-level ozone can trigger breathing problems by making the airways constrict, while fine airborne particles drive heart and lung disease.

Globally, the greatest source of volatile organic compounds are plants and trees, but the natural background levels are exacerbated by vapours released from hairsprays and perfumes; cleaning products and pesticides; paints and substances such as formaldehyde, which is used in glues, plywood and other building materials. Yet more synthetic VOCs come from burning fuels such as gas and wood (Sample, 2018).

The next post will discuss in detail how toxins in domestic cleaning agents harm the environment.


US EPA (2018). Sustainable Marketplace: Greener Products and Services | US EPA. [online] US EPA. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/greenerproducts [Accessed 5 Jan. 2019].

US EPA (2019). Nutrient Pollution | US EPA. [online] US EPA. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution.

American Lung Association (2020). Cleaning Supplies and Household Chemicals | American Lung Association. [online] www.lung.org. Available at: https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/cleaning-supplies-household-chem.

Sample, I. (2018). Cleaning products a big source of urban air pollution, say scientists. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/15/cleaning-products-urban-pollution-scientists [Accessed 9 Nov. 2020].